Category Archives: Genealogy

Robert Evans: A Canadian in South Pass City

In the summer of 1869, Robert Evans, a Canadian carpenter sought his fortune in South Pass City, Wyoming.  Sadly, near the end of November, he died.  While Robert did not become a memorable figure of South Pass history, his personal letters found in his probate file and some basic genealogical research reveal an interesting life.

South Pass City, 1870 (WSA Sub Neg 7785)

South Pass City, 1870
(WSA Sub Neg 7785)

Robert was from Cobourg, Ontario, a thriving community on Lake Ontario in southeast Ontario about 73 miles northwest of Toronto.  Robert was born in 1839 probably in the New England area to Henry and Mary Evans, immigrants from Ireland and England respectfully.  The family later moved to Cobourg, where Henry and Robert worked as carpenters.  A second son, Albert, was born in 1860 and would become a cabinet maker.  Some family members lived in or near Toronto.  

We can only speculate how Robert made the 1800-plus miles trek from Cobourg, Ontario to South Pass City, Wyoming, but his journey did not mean his broke all ties with friends and family.  On the contrary, he wrote to them frequently, probably giving him something to do as well as staying connected to them.  

Letters from friends and their envelopes. (WSA Sweetwater Dist Ct PR Robert Evans, 1869)

Letters from friends and their envelopes.
(WSA Sweetwater Dist Ct PR Robert Evans, 1869)

Jonathan McCleery, a friend in Chicago, was jealous of Robert’s western venture and wanted go there himself.  The problem was money.  “Bob[,] I am anxious to get out there and if you can send me some money or a Pass or Ticket I shall Repay the first Money I get a hold of and if anybody can Rustle I am the man[.] you know that as well as I do [.] But how can a man get any money when these close-fisted-sons-of Bitches wont give it up.”  One wonders if McCleery eventually made it to South Pass.

Evans' friend Jonothan McCreery wrote to beg money to come out to South Pass City. (WSA Sweetwater Dist Ct PR Robert Evans, 1869)

Evans’ friend Jonothan McCreery wrote to beg money to come out to South Pass City.
(WSA Sweetwater Dist Ct PR Robert Evans, 1869)

Robert wrote often to his parents, Henry and Mary.  Besides reassuring them that he was alive and doing well, he sent them money, which was much needed and appreciated.  In one letter he mentioned that he had quit drinking.  After receiving this news Mary reportedly said “Thank God now I Can Dy [die] in Peace.“  

Mary was very ill throughout most of the winter and spring of 1869.  Robert had returned home once to see her but she later desired another visit from him.  A future trip was not to be probably because Robert could not make the time or bear the travel costs. Then one day he received a note from his father stating that Mary had died on June 29, 1869 making “a happy Change from this mortal State to a State of Immortality where Sorrow never Comes.”  

In this letter, Evans' father tells him of his mother's death. The letter was written on mourning stationary. It was typical of the time for individuals to use stationary with a black border after the death of a loved one. As time went by, the black boarder would narrow. This thick boarder denoted deep mourning or a recent death. It is interesting to note that his father did not begin his letter on the usual front of the page within the black boarder. Perhaps he wanted to break the news to his son more gently.  (WSA Sweetwater Dist Ct PR Robert Evans, 1869)

In this letter, Evans’ father tells him of his mother’s death. The letter was written on mourning stationary. It was typical of the time for individuals to use stationary with a black border after the death of a loved one. As time went by, the black boarder would narrow. This thick boarder denoted deep mourning or a recent death. It is interesting to note that his father did not begin his letter on the usual front of the page within the black boarder. Perhaps he wanted to break the news to his son more gently.
(WSA Sweetwater Dist Ct PR Robert Evans, 1869)

Lizzie West, a friend in Elko Nevada, consoled him.  “Death is the only thing we are sure of,” she wrote.  “Let us all strive to be prepared to meet it.”

Following the death of his wife, Henry urged Robert to write often and soon.  The economic outlook in Cobourg seemed bleak but Henry believed he would persevere.  But there was one thing that would really make him happy.  “I would like if you could come home this winter,” Henry wrote.  The date was August 13, 1869.  Sadly Robert never made it home again.

The original deed to Evans' property in South Pass City is included in his probate file. (WSA Sweetwater Dist Ct PR Robert Evans, 1869)

The original deed to Evans’ property in South Pass City is included in his probate file.
(WSA Sweetwater Dist Ct PR Robert Evans, 1869)

Robert Evans died in South Pass City in November 1869.  His estate was meager.  It consisted of a house on Price Street valued at $25, notes on construction computations, a handful of personal letters, some outstanding loan and credit notices, and various clothes, tools, and groceries.  Records do not reveal the cause of death but invoices show he had received some medical care during his illness.  Robert’s estate was eventually settled in 1872.

Examples of bills submitted to the court against Evans' estate. They are a wonderful window into what was worn and eaten but also the cost of goods in South Pass in 1869. For instance, Evans' entire suit of clothing, clothing repairs, and two blankets cost $98 (a bit over $1,760 today) which reflects the inflated prices in the mining boom town. He had run up a grocery bill of $225 (about $4050 today.)  (WSA Sweetwater Dist Ct PR Robert Evans, 1869)

Examples of bills submitted to the court against Evans’ estate. They are a wonderful window into what was worn and eaten but also the cost of goods in South Pass in 1869. For instance, Evans’ entire suit of clothing, clothing repairs, and two blankets cost $98 (a bit over $1,760 today) which reflects the inflated prices in the mining boom town. He had run up a grocery bill of $225 (about $4050 today.)
(WSA Sweetwater Dist Ct PR Robert Evans, 1869)

It is not hard to understand why Robert kept his personal letters.  They had a strong emotional appeal to him, and they made him feel connected to friends and family.  For the modern reader, these records provide interesting perspectives about a pioneer of South Pass and life in the late nineteenth century.

— Carl Hallberg, Reference Archivist

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The ABC’s of City Directories

Happy Archives Month! A wise researcher once said “genealogy without documentation is mythology.” During October, we will be taking a closer look at some of the wonderful genealogical resources available at the Archives and how they can help you dig deeper and possibly solve your family history research problems.


 

Examples of city directories from around Wyoming. These books can be wonderful resources for genealogists.

Examples of city directories from around Wyoming. These books can be wonderful resources for genealogists.

City directories first came in to use in what is now the United State in some of the east coast cities in the eighteenth century, and continue to be published today in both the US and Canada.  While there were many publishers involved, the most recognized publisher is (R.L) Polk City Directories.  The directories were used to help salespeople and deliverymen locate individuals for commercial and delivery purposes, and to provide advertising space for businesses, much like later telephone books.

The directories were often produced annually or every other year.  Before starting your research in the city directories, review the table of contents and introductory text to better understand the organization, format and abbreviations in the book.

The introduction may provide clues as to the organization of the particular directory.

The introduction may provide clues as to the organization of the particular directory.
(WSA Polk Directory, Laramie 1929-1930)

Included in the listing was the name of the head of household, the street address and often the occupation and employer of the head of household.  This information can lead to some interesting discoveries, as well as the possibility of verifying family stories of what a great-grandfather did for a living.  The listing may also include whether the individual was a boarder, renter, or owner.

This page of the 1934-35 Casper Polk Directory includes A.E. Chandler. From the entry we find his full name was Arthur E., his wife's name was Elizabeth. We can also see that Changler ran the Casper's Finest Filling Station. Business must have been going well because he had a telephone at both his home and the business.

This page of the 1934-35 Casper Polk Directory includes A.E. Chandler. From the entry we find his full name was Arthur E., his wife’s name was Elizabeth. We can also see that Changler ran the Casper’s Finest Filling Station. Business must have been going well because he had a telephone at both his home and the business.
(WSA Polk Directory, Casper 1934-35)

In some directories, only the head of household was listed, which, from the family historian’s viewpoint, can be frustrating.  As children became adults they were listed as well.  When a man died, his wife was often indexed as “Smith, Mary, widow of John”.  (This is a clue to a death date.)

By the mid-twentieth century these directories included a street cross-index, which is useful for determining neighbors, or who lived in the house prior to and following your ancestor.  Looking through the street index listing lets the researcher see if there are relatives living in the same neighborhood.  This is also helpful, if your ancestor is using a nickname.  In past research, using the street address has helped this researcher discover Gaylord Everett, who was going by Gale Everett.

It is much easier to determine the address of a residence using the directories than from the census records.  They give the researcher the opportunity to go to the physical address and visualize where their ancestors lived.  In the absence of census records, directories are very helpful in tracking the movement of those elusive ancestors more frequently than census enumerations since they were published annually or bi-annually.  Many directories include community pages which would list houses of worship, clubs, cemeteries, businesses and possibly a city map.  If your ancestor lived in a small town or a big city, chances are they can be found in a city directory.

This "directory of householders" includes the area surrounding the Historic Governor's Mansion in Cheyenne.  This portion of the directory can help you  identify neighbors or neighboring businesses. It is also quite helpful when researching buildings. Once you have a name, the "white page" style listing can tell you more about the individual.  (WSA Polk Directory, Cheyenne 1907)

This “directory of householders” includes the area surrounding the Historic Governor’s Mansion in Cheyenne. This portion of the directory can help you identify neighbors or neighboring businesses. It is also quite helpful when researching buildings. Once you have a name, the “white page” style listing can tell you more about the individual.
(WSA Polk Directory, Cheyenne 1907)

As with any mass produced item, accuracy may be an issue.  In some instances, people had to pay to have their names included in a directory and ethnic and racial minorities were often excluded. Also the year on the cover is most often the publication dates, which is not necessarily the year the information was collected.  But most of all, don’t be surprised if you find yourself “reading” the directory!  They are full of clues, and facts that help place your ancestor in historical context.

— Robin Everett, Processing Archivist

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Anatomy of a Death Certificate

Happy Archives Month! A wise researcher once said “genealogy without documentation is mythology.” During October, we will be taking a closer look at some of the wonderful genealogical resources available at the Archives and how they can help you dig deeper and possibly solve your family history research problems.


Death certificates are one of the most popular records used by family historians for their research. Depending upon when your ancestor died, they are one of the first sources a researcher should seek to learn more about their ancestor.  Once in your possession, go through each line of the document and seek out additional evidence for the information vital to your research.  Like all good sources, the death certificate leads the researcher to other documents.

Death certificates provide us much more information than just the date of a person’s death.  Information contained on the death certificate may lead you to other records.  However, some information should be approached with caution.

Death certificates contain primary and secondary information.  Remember primary information is recorded at or near the event, by a person who has direct knowledge of the event; whereas secondary information is recorded long after the event, by a person who was not present at the event.

EPR Stewart Death Certificate - primary sources

The yellow shaded portions of this death certificate show the information that can be considered a primary source and thus is most likely trustworthy. This information was provided by doctors, coroners, undertakers, etc. who attended the deceased at the time of their death or just prior to this certificate being completed. This certificate was issued for the death of Elinore Pruitt Stewart, author of the book Letters of a Woman Homesteader. But notice that there is a discrepancy between the first and maiden/middle names she published under. Further research may be necessary to decide whether or not to trust this source for that particular bit of information.

The primary information is the information regarding the event itself: the person, place, date, time, the cause, and other information pertaining to the event that just took place.

EPR Stewart Death Certificate - secondary source

The green shaded portion of this death certificate is the secondary source information provided by the informant. This information may or may not be trustworthy, depending upon who the informant was. In most cases, the informant was not present at the time of the deceased’s birth and thus the information could be considered hearsay. But it is a great place to find clues for corroborating documentation.

The secondary information is the biographical information – the birth date and place, parents’ names and birthplace.  The accuracy of this information is directly dependent upon the informant, and their relationship to the deceased.

Usual residence information is particularly important when a person dies in another state.  Example: A person with a usual residence of San Antonio Texas dies in Tucson Arizona.  If a cemetery name is given, it could be located in San Antonio or Tucson.   Also, the usual residence information should lead you to the city directories, census records, newspapers for obituaries, and the cemetery depending upon its location.

Over time, death certificates have come to include military service, and social security numbers, which are records available for research, also, an unusual cause of death (homicide) may lead you to the court records surrounding the event.

Henderson, Prairie Rose Coleman death certificate 1933-2070-4 homicide example

The pink section highlights the coroner’s notes about the death of Rose Coleman, also known by her rodeo stage name “Prairie Rose” Henderson. Rose disappeared in a snowstorm in February 1933. More than 6 years later, remains were found that were thought to be hers.
 
A death certificate like this one may lead you to other sources like coroner’s inquests (for suspicious/unattended deaths), probate records, newspaper articles, etc.
 
You may also want to check for documentation filed with a death certificate like this one. If you notice, the highlighted area says “over”, meaning there is likely more information on the back. In this case, there was also a letter from the Vital Statistics staff documenting why two certificates were issued and other administrative notes.

Don’t forget the obvious clue: someone has died, did they have a will?  Is there a probate file with the court?  Both of these documents can provide further clues to research.

— Robin Everett, Processing Archivist

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